Banff National Park is a prime hiking destination. Photo: Thinkstock

Where wild beauty meets city culture

Supported by:Discovery Reports
Euan McKirdy

For many visitors, especially those coming directly from China's smoggy cities, Canada is literally a breath of fresh air. From the snowy peaks of British Columbia and the vast central plains to the thousand islands of Lake Ontario and the wild coasts of Newfoundland, Canada offers overseas visitors nature at its best. For those of a more urban persuasion, the country's cities offer colourful sights and culture.

Visitors from Asia are on the increase, and none more so than from China. Since gaining Approved Destination Status in 2010, a green light of sorts for Chinese tourists, the Chinese tourism market has been growing rapidly - up to 22 per cent a year since 2010, with 273,000 visitors in 2012, almost double the figure five years ago, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Many visitors from Asia find themselves drawn to British Columbia on the west coast - given the distances from this part of the world, it is often a relief to come in a few hours earlier than flights further east to Toronto. Known as Canada's adventure playground, it boasts 25,000km of coastline and 997 provincial parks, along with laid-back Vancouver. With its sizable Chinese population, the city is host to a world-famous Lunar New Year parade and also hosts one of Canada's largest dragon boat events.

Other events in Vancouver include the Eastside Cultural Crawl and a world-class jazz festival. The Celebration of Light fireworks festival draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to the city's beaches and shores, while the Pacific National Exhibition is held over 17 days every summer, with a fair, seasonal amusement park, arena music, agricultural displays, rides and more to keep the whole family busy.

British Columbia is home to some of the most stunning natural scenery the country has to offer, and Pacific Rim National Park is a prime example of what awaits tourists. Hemmed in by a mountain range on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, this Vancouver Island getaway is home to the famous West Coast Trail - known as some of the best hiking in the country, alongside long beaches, ancient forests and Aboriginal culture.

Further north - and further inland - is the resort town of Whistler, one of the best skiing spots in North America. Around two hours from Vancouver, the route to Whistler is as memorable as the skiing, with the Sea to Sky Highway providing a stunning look at some of the province's finest landscapes and vistas.

Alberta shares the Rocky Mountains with its western neighbour, and with 1,600km of hiking trails in Banff National Park, it makes the most of the rugged beauty of this unforgettable mountain range. Calgary is a cowboy town and home to what is billed as the "greatest outdoor show on earth" - the annual Calgary Stampede. Held over two weeks at the beginning of July, the event hosts a rodeo daily, featuring the world's best rodeo athletes and the finest stock, and the GMC Rangeland Derby, a modern chariot race where teams of horses race while pulling covered wagons.

Heading further east, the province of Quebec offers a hugely different side of Canada. Known for its francophone and independent leanings, it is also home to some amazing scenery. The St Lawrence River is a marine paradise and one of the best places in the world to go whale-watching.

The city of Quebec is less-visited than its larger, brasher neighbour Montreal, but is still a delight. The Old Town is surrounded by city walls - the only city in North America to boast such a structure - and its hilly, cobbled streets are made for pedestrian ambling in the summer. The city is strikingly European, and also is home to a bevy of cultural events including the Carrefour International de Theâtre de Quebec, an international theatre festival which runs from May to June, and the La Grande Fête de la Côte-de-Beaupre cultural festival at the end of August.

Much further to the south, Toronto is arguably Canada's most cosmopolitan city. Home to the CN Tower, Ontario Science Centre, Royal Ontario Museum and a waterfront area along Lake Ontario, this bustling metropolis is the perfect pit stop for a few days of arts, culture and sightseeing. The city is also within easy reach of Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular natural sights the country - or perhaps anywhere - has to offer.